At the end of today, the Egyptian military has promised to remove Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, if he cannot regain the ear of the people. He has spent the last days hidden from view while an estimated 33 million Egyptians took to the streets in protest at his inability to meet the promises of the January 25th Revolution which ousted Dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011. For many this will all come as a surprise, so let’s take a look at how we got here.
Post Revolution Egypt
Following a mass protest launched by the secular left (but including a wide range of groups) from Jan 25th to Feb 11th 2011, Egypt’s autocratic leader of thirty years Hosni Mubarak resigned his rule to make way for a people’s democracy. There appears to be a narrative in portions of the mainstream media that the people of Egypt can’t quite handle democracy, or that the country is doomed to constant revolt. However, a closer look at events post-revolution suggest that the protests are in fact the Egyptian people making a more significant stand for their democracy than many populations around the world have been willing to. The revolution isn’t dead, it’s fighting for it’s life.
One of the key demands of the January Revolution was for the repeal of the existing constitution and the drafting of a new constitution that would guarantee a democratic nation, with rule of law, human rights and representation in parliament.
The same Generals that had propped up Mubarak for decades, enforcing his will, were responsible for managing the transition to ‘democracy’. Their meddling throughout has been notable, particularly with regard to the time tabling of the democratic transition.
The military put forward constitutional amendments setting out the timetable, putting parliamentary elections first, followed by presidential elections, with the new constitution to be drafted throughout this process.
The secular movement opposed this plan, preferring a chance to develop their new civil networks to develop parties and candidates. They also argued that a constitution was required ahead of elections, so that new leaders would be bound by the constitution, rather than the constitution bound by the will of the new leader.
Islamists pushed for quicker elections, which they were poised to dominate given their mature, developed religious civil networks, as opposed to the new liberal, secular civil networks only able to start operating post-Mubarak.
The parliamentary elections went ahead with the anticipated dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood, who gained control of half the lower house (the law making body) and 90% of the upper house (almost powerless). The hard right Salafists took a whole quarter of the lower house. This left the non-Islamist parties with a minority voice parliament and gifted the Constituent Assembly, a one hundred member assembly to create Egypt’s new constitution, to the Islamists.
From its inception, there were major concerns that the Constituent Assembly was dominated by Islamists. By November 2012, the members of the liberal parties and Christian churches left the assembly to protest the marginalisation of their voices within the drafting process.
By the time the Constitution was put out for referendum last December, opposition to the process was gaining ground. While the constitution was passed with 63.8% of the vote, only 32.9% of voters participated. There were also allegations of endemic vote rigging.
Abuse of Power
In the weeks before Morsi’s election, the military sought to extend their enjoyed 15 months run of total control by declaring constitutional amendments granting themselves sweeping powers and limiting the role of the new president.
Morsi was elected with 51% of the vote and took his oath on June 30th 2012. On arrival in office, one of his first acts was to dismiss the top ranking generals, and to confer the powers the military had granted themselves upon himself. Whilst initially seen as a show of strength, guaranteeing the survival of a democratic government, few noted that this action left Morsi with absolute executive and legislative power – a power he was soon to make full use of.
By November last year, Morsi issued his infamous declarations. These were summarised wonderfully by Adam Ramsey of New Internationalist:
“Morsi’s declarations resulted in the removal of the despised prosecutor general; the retrial of anyone convicted, from the revolution to his appointment as president, with regards to protester deaths; the immunity of the Shura council (the upper house of parliament) from dissolution; the immunity of the constituent assembly from dissolution; the authority for the President to take any measures he sees fit in order to ‘preserve and safeguard the revolution’; and the immunity of any decree made by the President from any body, judicial or otherwise.”
By December last year it was clear the draft constitution had been hijacked by the Islamists. Almost the entire non-Islamist representation in the assembly boycotted the vote to approve a date for the referendum. Nevertheless, Morsi set a referendum date for December 15th. A large number of judges refused to oversee the Referendum as they could not in good conscience facilitate the installation of a new dictator.
During his first year, Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi has become, in the eyes of many non-Islamist Egyptians, the new Mubarak. He has used his unbalanced executive power to stifle the development of any liberal, secular opposition or justice and human rights advocates which would stand in his way.
The military and executive branches of Egypt have launched a war on the very human rights and justice advocates who launched the revolution.
The security services raided the offices of 10 NGO not for profit organisations, during which 43 NGO workers – including 16 Americans – were arrested and jailed in a crackdown on human rights and democracy campaigners across Egypt. Morsi is also seeking to pass a new law which places the authority for NGOs to accept foreign funding in the hands of a committee stuffed with Central Security Forces officials.
Considering that most of the caseload for these NGOs is defending the rights of Egyptians from torture, arbitrary imprisonment, gang rape and other human rights offences committed by the Central Security Forces or related social groups – this law amounts to the suppression of NGO’s and justice advocates.
Protesters seeking to protect and build the promises of the revolution have found themselves facing the full force of the Egyptian state. It is important to remember that 841 protesters were killed by security forces during the revolution. However, human rights groups in Egypt are calling for an investigation into the deaths since the revolution after a study of media reports, Ministry of Health and other sources counted 1,085. There are fears that the real number is far higher as it claimed the security forces have buried people in secret and destroyed evidence of crimes.
Despite this there have been enormous, continuous and largely peaceful waves of protest, in face of state violence and the real risk of death and injury. The unrepresented liberal, secular and non-Islamist Egypt continues to strive for the principles of the revolution.
Please watch video – this is what democracy looks like
Not only have Egyptians protested, but they have continued to develop their opposition, despite expulsion from the democratic process. The formerly disparate new parties outside the Islamist stronghold cooperated to form an umbrella opposition called the National Salvation Front (NSF).
The NSF brings together three popular leaders in protest at Morsi’s bastardisation of the revolution; Mohamed ElBaredei, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi, and a host of parties including the Constitution Party, the Egyptian Popular Current, the Social Democratic Party and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party.
On the day the NSF was formed, ElBaradei said that Morsi was turning himself into Egypt’s “new pharaoh” and that “We will have to continue to escalate our level of expressing resistance, peaceful disobedience,”
This is exactly what the opposition have continued to do, throughout this tense and oppressive period in Egypt’s transition to Democracy. Rather than considering the revolution somehow failed, it is merely unfinished. The significant thing is that rather than accept the machinations of the security forces, the President and the Islamists as a fait accompli, the masses of Egypt have hit the streets in protest, and continued to build their democratic alternative.
Now Egypt is on the precipice. The people are faced with the continuance of the ever more dictatorial Morsi presidency, a military coup, or…we know not what. What we do know is that they deserve our every support. All eyes on Egypt, we might just learn something about how to take apart a broken democracy, and build anew.
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